John Armstrong: National's rescue package puts it in the fast lane

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At long last, National is grabbing the election campaign by the scruff of the neck.

During the two ordinary weeks that followed its lame campaign launch, National had seemed stuck in second gear.

Nothing was drastically wrong with its campaign. But nothing - apart from possibly its policy requiring the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to invest 40 per cent of its contributions in New Zealand assets - had set the campaign alight and got voters talking.

The dull billboards, the 1970s-retro launch, the bland television advertising ... it was all very predictable, all very safe.

That's fine if - as National's private polling is said to show - there is still a healthy gap of upwards of 10 percentage points between the party and Labour.

But National seemed to be playing Russian roulette with the polls, its "don't frighten the horses" attitude giving Labour oxygen for its "you can't trust them" theme.

The narrowing in some polls seems to have prompted a bit of a rethink.

With less than two weeks to election day, National leader John Key is trying hard to grab the initiative at a time when many voters are starting to firm up their intentions.

He wrapped up a support deal with Peter Dunne on Sunday. Yesterday, he reheated National's planned spend-up on infrastructure projects to head off Labour's intentions of going down the same track.

But most attention will focus on National's rescue package for people who lose their jobs in the predicted prolonged recession.

"Transitory assistance" will be offered to those paying mortgages to tide them over while they hunt for another job,

National has to be seen responding to the repercussions of the financial crisis in an effective and credible fashion. But this is a big call.

The package is designed to show that Key will be as centrist as Prime Minister as he says he will.

It is all about negating Labour's "trust" message.

The nightmare is in the detail as to who is eligible for money and who isn't - this will be revealed on Friday.

The package must be seen as fair, although there are bound to be inequities.

The package also runs counter to National Party ideology, by discouraging savings and people taking out income-protection insurance.

But it does offer voters a comfort blanket in uncertain times.

Insiders say considerable and careful thought has been given to all this. If it is popular, the package could give Key unstoppable momentum. If it is not, it could throw the campaign wide open.

- NZ Herald

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